Tips for Finding and Working with a Cartoonist


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We had two earlier compilations on cartoonists. Those tips have been combined and brought up to date, and new ones have been added.

SNN Editors' note: see also this compilation

— Pat Byrnes (New Yorker cartoonist, Graphic Artists Guild member, National Cartoonists Society member, illustrator)

For access to professional cartoonists and cartoon illustrators, I recommend the following sites, which can steer you to the vast majority of actual professionals in the field.

If you are uncomfortable going through organizations, you may try the source books in which artists generally advertise, such as

Also, the Cartoon Bank licenses the printed work of New Yorker cartoonists and publishes on their site a listing of their reprint prices that can be a useful yardstick in negotiating with other cartoonists. Also look at their terms of use, which may introduce you to the business standard for the industry. But note that these prices are for reprints, not original unpublished or commissioned art.

To learn the ins and outs of commissioned art, I heartily recommend getting a copy of the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines. Most big book stores, art stores, or will have it. It publishes the range of going rates for illustration and design, which it derived by a survey of hundreds of professional graphic artists across the country. It also explains WHY many of the preferred business practices are preferred or even necessary for the long-term health of the industry. It is invaluable to every artist or art buyer.

The most perplexing issue to many small or novice art buyers is the issue of rights. You often will want to have exclusivity to the representation of your idea, and that is quite acceptable. Sometimes it is even vital. That is what makes it so important that you do NOT try to negotiate for a complete buyout of all rights, including the underlying copyright. Is this counterintuitive? No, not once you understand the legal meaning of copyright. The big ad agencies understand this very well, and you should too.

If you buy the full copyright from an artist, then you are the legal author of the work. In legal terms, it was YOUR hand, not the artist's, that created the work. You own it all, right down to the signature. And there's the rub. The artist has no control over that work, ever again.

Now suppose you (let's call you Coca Cola) want to hire an illustrator to create for you a drawing in that illustrator's signature style, and you want exclusive rights to that illustrator's look and feel, which you know will give you the edge over your competition. And then suppose that that illustrator has sold all rights to previous works in work-for-hire agreements. The owners of those previous works may have lost any use for them and sold them off to stock illustration houses (as often happens). Now your competitors (let's call them Pepsi) can buy them from the stock houses and completely undermine your efforts. All you can do is try to sue your illustrator under your indemnity clause, but he can legally argue that he did not create those other works but rather the owners of the copyrights did -- legally, at least.

In other words, you can never guarantee exclusive rights if the illustrator cannot control those rights. Most of the time exclusivity is not a factor. But sometimes it is, and when it is, it is a critical factor (just ask Coke and Pepsi). To the illustrator, losing rights to even a single work can cripple or scuttle a career. To the art buyer, not having artists in control of their rights can cripple or scuttle entire marketing campaigns -- and several careers. It is in the interest of both artist and art buyer to negotiate only the rights required and even suffer the sometimes bothersome paperwork of royalty agreements.

The two following cartoonists are consistent pros who specialize in business cartoons and have enormous libraries to choose from.

— Bill McCurry

Four days before the presentation I realized a key point I wanted to make wasn't coming across. I called the cartoonist who illustrated my last book, Duffy Langford, and told him my concern. The next day I had a sketch and two days later had the colored illustrations emailed to me. We discussed the concept I wanted to get across. He raised it to the next level and provided illustrations that helped drive the point home. The response from the audience was more than I had hoped for. If you have a need, call Duffy,, 916/723-9941. Even with the rush he charged his normal very reasonable rate.

— Rita Risser

Using cartoons is a great way to jazz up your newsletter, and it is absolutely essential to get permission. Not only is it required by law, but also it makes you look like a real pro. Contact the syndicate that carries the cartoon and ask for the permissions department. It usually costs about $125 to reprint a top cartoon like Dilbert in a newsletter. Unfortunately, the pricing structure for cartoons published on the Web or as overheads is different and expensive. In those cases, have cartoons made especially for you by a contract cartoonist.

I just hired Cartoon Resource to do a custom cartoon for my paper newsletter. It was a highly unusual and sensitive subject, and they came up with just the right touch. I believe it was $180.

— Shannon Parish

As an award-winning cartoonist and humorous illustrator, I've had the pleasure of working with a wide range of projects and businesses. When budgeting for cartoons, you'll need to consider the VALUE that they add to your products — not the time that your artist will take to create the cartoons or illustrations.

Plan carefully where you will use original cartoons and illustrations. Placing them strategically will help you to stay within your budget and get more bang for your buck. Artwork that is contracted for is based upon licensing, not time involved in the creation of the work. (See information listed on the Web sites of artist organizations above.)

When hiring a cartoonist to create a cartoon for you, be specific in your expectations. What race is your character to be? Sex? Emotion? Telling a cartoonist that you want an office scene leaves much to the imagination. What kind of office scene? What is the point you want to make? The more details you provide, the less frustration on both ends — and the greater the results. Even stick figures or photo samples that you provide to explain your concept will endear your artist to you and will facilitate the production of your artwork in a timely and cost effective manner.

Expect to pay a deposit up front for the estimated cost and understand that most cartoonists and artists will do up to two revisions on the artwork before they charge additional costs. The lesson here is to have an excellent idea of what you are looking for in a cartoon before you hire out.

You can view my work at or email me at or call me at 720-984-9355.

— Tim Richardson

If you have need of someone to take your ideas and turn them into pictures, consider using Jim Carpenter. I have often used his cartoon work. You can use his existing work, or he will do custom projects, and for a very reasonable fee. Visit his Web site to see samples.

— Steve Kissell and Kristin Arnold

We recommend Dom Rinaldo (3486 Creek River Drive, Las Vegas, NV 89129. 702/242-0215 or Fax: 702-242-2928)

We fax him some ideas, Dom faxes back and we agree on the cartoons. He then sends us the hard copy (of course, I would prefer digital, but the guy isn't even on email) and then we have exclusive rights to the cartoon.

— Dick Dale and Stephanie Davis

We recommend Jim Whiting, 222 Countryhaven Rd., Encinitas, CA 92024 (760) 944-4530 Home/Office (760) 944-5589 Fax

Jim has done monthly cartoons, industrial cartoons, etc. for both of us. Costs range from $20 for simple cartoons to $100 for more complex ones.

— Cartoonists payment guidelines -- Andrew Grossman, Cartoon Resource

As director of a cartoon resource center, I'm often asked how speakers can work positively with cartoonists and what are some guidelines for payment. We've fulfilled cartoon needs for many speakers' presentations and books. It can be confusing when presented with the wide array of cartoonists who advertise on the Internet, and the variety of prices that they charge. What is the right price to pay for a cartoon? For illustrations? Many cartoon services base pricing on an estimate of the time required to do the drawing. Our standard is $50/hour. Our policy is to keep in mind that speakers are usually on tight budgets, so we negotiate to fit their budget needs.

— Sheryl Nicholson

I love kids, so I go to the art departments of high schools and find artists there. They work inexpensively and their greatest reward is that they can write that their stuff has been published when they prepare their resume. Warning: Finding a style you like is like looking for the right doctor. I gave them 3 ideas, let several draw what they thought I meant by what I said and then chose.

— John Cantu, a former cartoon writer, makes this recommendation:

There is a monthly publication for cartoonists called "Gag Recap." It is about 10 pages f/b, typewritten, recapping the cartoons of the previous month in most major publications. For cartoon/cartoonist info -- it is THE trade journal. It goes out to 300+ cartoonists and gagwriters (the folks who create the ideas for the cartoonist) nation wide. While there are some newbies and wannabes, a good portion of the top artists in the country subscribe -- from New Yorker cartoonists on down.

If you want to hire a cartoonist, send the editor a note and ask him to publish your request for a cartoonist to work on a "for hire" basis. Have them send you samples of their work and their rates. If you want to qualify the quality of the artist, say "I'm looking for an artist who has multiple sales to the major markets."

"Gag Recap" at P.O. Box 248, Chalfont, PA 18914. The publisher also produces "Cartoon Opportunities."

One other tip -- if you see a cartoonist published in a magazine whose style you like, write to them c/o the publication with "please forward" on envelope. Don't be intimidated by the quality of the artwork -- you'd be surprised how many of your favorite artists have a day job and would love the extra money -- yes, there are some who are full-time artists, but like the speaking profession, there are more part-timers and moonlighters than full-time professionals.

— Peter Turla

I asked a sidewalk cartoonist if he wanted to do some custom work for me. He was thrilled to do it. I described the concepts and he put his genius to work and often gave me three version of the idea so I could choose the best one. His rate was $20 per acceptable cartoon. In my book, I listed him as the artist and give him credit for his work.

— Leslie Charles

Click Art T/Maker offers a CD ROM filled w/New Yorker cartoons and you can change the captions if you like. You buy the CD Rom you can use any and all cartoons in presentations -- not books.

(Note: T/Maker no longer exists. You can find New Yorker cartoons online at (search on "New Yorker"),,, and other places.)

— Deb Fine

I have incorporated original cartoons into my handouts and I am looking at developing products with them also. I paid $100 per frame for each approved frame. Some of my cartoons are 4 frames, some 6. The agreement was that I own the cartoons. I found this wonderful artist by accident/networking.

— Nancy Miller

In a couple of our books, we have used custom cartoons.

The benefit of custom cartoons would be similar to original jokes -- custom cartoons are new and refreshing.

What is included in the agreement -- we use their agreement and are very flexible.

Where to find cartoonist and costs -- the best place I found was Elaine Floyd's book Marketing with Newsletters. I also contacted United Media about their Comic Search electronic library which includes Arlo & Janis, Betty, Committed, Dilbert, For Better or For Worse, Jump Start, Luann, Marmaduke, Nancy, Over the Hedge, Peanuts, Reality Check, Robotman, Rose is Rose. There is generally a minimum rate of $35, but rates can reach several hundred dollars for high circulations.

We obtained the one-time, non-exclusive North American English reprint rights to Dilbert from 1-30-95. All the appropriate information for obtaining these rights was found online. The Reprint Rights Manager was friendly and helpful to work with. The cost for 5,000 reprints (the number of books printed) was $200.

— Christine Clifford

Cartoons are my trademark. I have written two books of cartoons and use cartoons on all of my promotional materials. I have had a custom cartoon developed for each of my speech topics, both in the health care industry and the corporate environment.

To me, the benefits of using customized cartoons is that they immediately capture the attention of the buyer. They are unique, summarize the speech content in a light-hearted fashion, and reflect my personality in the design.

A tip I would offer, having used cartoons for four years now, is to be firm about what you want represented in the cartoon. Sometimes the illustrator has a different interpretation of what it is you are trying to convey. Make sure you sketch a detailed sample for the cartoonist to work off of. If you are not happy with the result, explain exactly what it is about the cartoon that doesn't work for you and how it could be fixed.

One of the most important clauses I included in my agreement with my illustrator was the fact that the rights to the cartoons were transferred to me upon payment. I have the right to use the cartoons on any type of merchandise without obligation to pay a royalty fee. This is critical if you want to leverage your investment in the illustrations.

When I was searching for an illustrator for my first book, I ran an ad in my local newspaper. Sixteen cartoonists responded to the ad. I asked each of them to illustrate the same two cartoons, providing the punch line and the basic sketch of what I wanted to portray. Two of the illustrators asked me if they could come meet me and my family first. One of the two got the job. Why? He captured the essence of my being by visually seeing me, my surrounding, meeting my children, husband and dog.

Costs per cartoon from the sixteen illustrators I interviewed ranged from $25 per cartoon to $225 per cartoon for black and white. Color cartoons (for the title page of the books, for example) ranged from $75 to $325. Several of the illustrators wanted to maintain the rights to the cartoons, which was not negotiable on my part. My illustrator was on the higher end of the scale.

One additional thing I was able to negotiate with my illustrator, after our initial agreement (it was an addendum to the agreement) was that I would pay him a flat rate per cartoon, until my book(s) each sold 30,000 copies. Then, at that point, I would compensate him with a specified bonus. This was a win-win situation for both of us, as he was paid 3/4ths of his initial asking price upon completion of the cartoons, but stood to gain more by helping to promote and sell the book(s).

Cartoons have proven to be a valuable marketing tool for my business, my books and my life as I try to find the humor in every situation.

— Tom Lagana

My agreement includes their fee (at least $50) and 1 or more copies of the book it's published in, with the opportunity to purchase more books at a substantial discount. I also only ask for one-time rights, so they may have their work published elsewhere. I ask the cartoonists to submit their work and only prepare the Permissions Form or Contract once the decision is made to publish their work. Some cartoonists have asked for a contract and specifics before I even have seen anything specific I want to use. That just doesn't work for me and is a complete turn off.

Don't exclude the talent locked away with 1.7+ million people in U.S. prisons. I'm co-authoring the new Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul. My preference is to have all the cartoons done by inmates. I'm working with inmates who have had many cartoons and gags previously published...not just prison-related stuff. The benefit is that I can ask them to create a cartoon based on a particular topic or a related story in my book. I also give the inmates leads to help them get other publishing opportunities.

It can be challenging working with contracts when a person is in prison, depending on the Institution.

— Stephanie Davis

I have had one cartoonist call and ask me if he could use a cartoon he drew for me in a sample book and I said yes.

I use custom cartoons for three reasons --

  1. I don't have to worry about obtaining copyright from the original cartoonist every time I want to use the cartoon,
  2. I can represent very specific (unique) humor that has resulted from audience reactions to my material, and
  3. I know nobody else will use the same cartoons.

When I commission an artist to design a cartoon for me, the agreement is that I will own the copyright outright and can use it in any manner that I wish including: handouts, printed books, magazine articles, tee shirts, bumper stickers, etc. I make sure that it is either on a signed contract, or written on the receipt in their handwriting with a signature. I just want to make sure that it isn't used by someone else for a purpose similar to mine.

The first time I hired a cartoonist, it was a referral. I was happy with his work, but he was very pricey. The next time I hired one, I searched the Internet for "cartoonist." I found a cartoonist association and I called the local representative for my area. I told him that I had a rather small budget and that I wanted a newer, talented cartoonist. He said would love to give me a quote. I haven't used anyone else since! He does great work and only charges me $20 for simple cartoons up to $100 for very complex ones that contain several scenes.

His name is Jim Whiting, (760) 944-4530. I highly recommend him! He really knows how to capture the moods, emotions, etc. that I am trying to get across.

— Rebecca Morgan

I haven't tried this, but if someone liked the art in a comic book, they might try contacting that company. I understand they have junior artists who fill in the background stuff and whose services are prices less than the primary artist.

When you see cartoon/illustrations you like, you should get the artist's contact info. I hired two cartoonists in the past. One I found because I saw his cartoon illustrations in a very large company's newsletter, and they gave me his contact info. I gave him some samples of images I liked, but wanted customized. He worked at the company doing a "day job," so charged me much less than I would have anticipated -- his fee was only $10/cartoon for all rights. I scanned them and now use them in workbooks, etc. We only had a verbal agreement.

— Patti Hathaway

I have used a young Australian cartoonist for the last 3 years - Clinton Cherry. I give him 2-5 sentence description of what I am looking for. Ultimately 1 sentence will go at the bottom of the cartoon as my quote with my name. Clinton then develops 3-4 cartoons in black and white and sends them to me via e-mail for my reaction. I tell him which cartoon I like best with suggested changes I want him to make. He then sends me (via CD) a black and white version for insertion into my handouts plus a full-color cartoon for insertion into my books, postcards, framed client gifts, CD-ROM products, etc. His full color cartoons are absolutely brilliant and eye-catching. He did 14 cartoons for my most recent book including the character on the front cover of my book. He did 2 custom cartoons for my long-term training contracts (for key idea postcards and client gifts) this past year.

At his suggestion, he incorporated my "The CHANGE AGENT" logo into each cartoon (so someone may steal my cartoon but not get rid of me). He charges $100 and he gives me full rights for using the cartoon in any products (I send him a illustration release form which he signs). He should be charging MUCH more for his services as his stuff is really beautiful and very creative. The only downside to working with an Australian via e-mail is that he is on the opposite time zone so communication takes longer + it takes 1-2 weeks to get the CD with the final cartoon. Clinton can be reached at: .

— Nancy Lininger

I very happy with the services and product I am getting from my cartoonist. I felt the fee I am paying was a fair price.

I originally found Ian Jones because he was already doing cartoons for a securities industry publication; my niche. This industry is very specialized. Ian and I talked the same jargon and he already saw the humor in what could be a very serious topic -- securities compliance (rules and regulations). So Ian and I work well together. I don't have to go into lengthy explanations of what, why, and how I want what I want. Sometimes I come up with the concept and sometimes he does. Either way, we work through a couple or few revisions, which is included in his pricing.

Each year Ian creates my Christmas card. We combine the very merry holiday theme with securities regulatory compliance and come up with something very unique and very me! It will be printed on one side of a long card folded in three panels. So when the card is opened we may have one long drawing going all the way down through the three panels (e.g. Santa at the bottom of a chimney) or a series of separate panels setting up a joke and then the punch line for the third panel. This may consist of only one cartoon with text or two or three cartoons and text comprising the three panels. Either way, he has charged one flat fee of $200 each year. This cartoon is created exclusively for me. He delivers a master in black and white. I then take it to my local printer who fills in some color spots (red and/or green) and we go to print.

He recently created a caricature of me (as the "Professional Weightlifter"). While this was just one cartoon and no text, he doubled the price to $400. Even though I have unlimited rights to both my Christmas cards and this icon, the theory of the price markup was that I would be able to use this in any media and it would have longer life. He compared this project to that of a logo, and on that basis he felt he was giving me a deep discount. (I have already found a number of ways to use my icon.)

Ian does not work exclusively for the securities industry and has done creative projects for a wide variety of industries and projects. You can check out his Web site. His Web site by itself is a work of art!

In doing some comparison-shopping, I checked out another cartoonist's Web site, Cartoon Resource. This was based on a couple of SNN recommendations. According to the pricing page on the Web site, custom B&W art (book media) is priced at $175 and custom color art (presentations media) is priced at $200. I called about my particular projects. My Christmas card for one long panel/cartoon (B&W) would be $200; or $300 if set up as 3 panels. (Color would add 50% to the pricing.) This company would not have marked up my icon and would have charged $200 for a B&W. Although this company stated they don't charge based on the media utilized (or life of the cartoon), their Web site and other parts of the conversation indicated that pricing would fluctuate based on usage.

Bottom line, be willing to pay up to work with professionals, and especially if you have someone that really understands your unique needs.

SpeakerNet News is produced by Rebecca Morgan and Ken Braly. It is not affiliated with the National Speakers Association. Send comments or suggestions